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Editorial: Threat from antidepressants in our water needs to be addressed

File this one under “no good deed goes unpunished.” The antidepressants that have helped millions of Americans lead happier, more productive lives are polluting our waterways and finding their way into the fish that inhabit them. There, they are shredding the ecological web that supports life in our lakes and rivers, threatening long-term disruptions.

The problem was described by researchers at the University at Buffalo and SUNY Buffalo State. They found common bass and walleye in the Niagara River to be laced with the active ingredients of such well-known medications as Zoloft, Prozac and Sarafem. Other fish were also found to be contaminated.
Although the levels of the chemicals do not make the fish unsafe for human consumption, they can make the fish themselves indifferent to predators, food and even to reproduction.

That’s portentous – the “canary in the coal mine,” as one of the researchers described it. By drenching these fish in antidepressants, we are altering the underwater environment in ways that could easily cascade disastrously.

That it is inadvertent by humans – it’s the result of urination – doesn’t change the fact that more research and action are required. It is important to ascertain if water treatment plants can be affordably – it’s a relative term – retrofitted to filter out such chemical contaminants or if newly constructed ones can be designed to meet the task.

At the other end of the problem are the pharmaceutical companies. They need to research their compounds in an effort to meet not only the medical needs of their grateful customers, but the environmental needs of the lakes and rivers that support all life, in and out of the water.

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